Butternut Squash and Sage Risotto

This recipe is the result of an impulsive purchase of fair trade, organic arborio rice, the huge sage bush planted on the east side of our house, a baby butternut squash from our garden and not enough leftovers for lunch.

Don’t ask me what possessed me to buy the rice or make this for lunch, because I really couldn’t tell you – except maybe that I love risotto and haven’t made it for, well, years.  But when I saw I was going to have to cook something for our lunch to go with the leftover lamb chops from our dinner the night before, I realized I not only had all of the ingredients for risotto (we’d just canned a huge batch of chicken broth the previous week), but all the ingredients for a butternut squash risotto.

So I made this.

And it was incredibly good.

A northern Italian specialty dating as far back as the Renaissance, risotto is traditionally served as a primo piatto (first course) after the antipasto, although in the U.S. it’s usually served as a side, or even a main course. It is made from a high-starch, short-grain rice, such as arborio; the risotto becomes exceptionally creamy as the liquid is gradually stirred into the dish.

This is not a quick recipe, although it’s quite simple; it just requires a lot of attention in the way of stirring, to make sure the liquid – in this case, a good homemade chicken broth – is absorbed so the rice doesn’t become gummy or unevenly cooked.  You don’t have to actually stand over it and tend it non-stop, especially if you’re doing other things to get the meal on the table, but it’s good to make sure it’s well-stirred every half-minute or so.

It’s important to make sure the butternut squash is cut into small cubes, since the liquid added to the rice is also needed to cook that, as well – if cut too large, the rice will cook before the squash is done. (If you’re worried about it, you can parboil the cubed squash for a minute or two in advance, but if cut to a 1/4″ dice, it shouldn’t be a problem.)  You also don’t want to overcook the rice; it should be al dente, so begin tasting it after about 18 to 20 minutes or so.  A mushy risotto is a sad, sad thing.

All in all, this was a plate of creamy, rich, autumnal yumminess, and I was not in the least bit sorry we ate the whole darn pan for lunch (and which also explains why I don’t make it very often).

Note:  This can easily be made vegetarian by using vegetable broth or stock in place of the chicken broth.  If you wish to omit the wine, which adds necessary acidity to counterbalance the richness of the butter and cheese, substitute with 2 or 3 tablespoons of a good quality white wine vinegar.

Butternut Squash and Sage Risotto. Winter squash makes a great addition to this autumn-inspired rice dish, which is finished with chopped fresh sage.

Click image to enlarge

Butternut Squash and Sage Risotto
[i]Serves 6 as a side dish, or 3 as a main course[/i]
Ingredients
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 2 cups butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/4″ dice
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 cup arborio rice
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 6 cups chicken stock or broth, preferably homemade
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh sage
  • salt and pepper
Instructions
  1. Heat the chicken stock in a 2-quart saucepan over medium-high heat until it comes to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low and keep hot.
  2. Melt the butter in a large, wide skillet or pan over medium heat. Add the onion and squash and cook, stirring frequently, until the onion has softened and is turning translucent. Stir in the rice and garlic and continue cooking for another minute.
  3. Stir the wine into the rice mixture and cook, stirring constantly, for about 2 minutes. Begin adding the hot chicken stock a half-cup at a time, stirring constantly after each addition until the liquid is mostly absorbed. Continue stirring the stock into the mixture, a half-cup at a time, until the rice and squash is tender, about 30 minutes.
  4. Stir the cheese and sage into the rice; season to taste with salt and pepper and serve immediately.
  5. Nutrition (per serving): 336 calories, 11.1g total fat, 29.8mg cholesterol, 481.1mg sodium, 488.4mg potassium, 42.4g carbohydrates, 1.4g fiber, 6.2g sugar, 12.4g protein

Chicken Cacciatore

I’m running a bit late this morning – we’re trying to recover from a weekend of College Student At Home.  Let’s just say it’s going to be a few weekends before THAT happens again.

How did Bill Cosby put it?  Oh, yeah…BRAIN. DAMAGE.  And we simply can’t afford it – college is cheaper.

Seriously.

Anyhoo, today’s recipe is so very good that I’ve made it twice in as many weeks – and I don’t even care for Italian food all that much.  This dish is simply stunning, nor is it difficult to make.  And while it isn’t a quick recipe, it certainly takes much less time than many braises.

You can use a whole chicken, cut into pieces, if you prefer – I just used drumsticks and thighs because that was the first thing I grabbed out of the freezer.  I also used a jar of tomato sauce we’d recently canned, along with fresh tomatoes from our garden but a 28-ounce can of chopped tomatoes would work well if you don’t want to peel, seed and chop them yourself.

This was excellent served over Japanese sweet potatoes mashed with some freshly grated Parmesan cheese and the same fresh herbs used in the cacciatore, but it would go equally well with regular mashed potatoes, rice, polenta or even pasta, if you’re so inclined.

Chicken Cacciatore. This rustic and satisfying dish is classic Italian cuisine at its finest.

Click image to enlarge

 

Chicken Cacciatore
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • 4 chicken thighs
  • 4 chicken drumsticks
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons ghee or clarified butter
  • 1 small red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 small green bell pepper, diced
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 3/4 cup dry white wine
  • 2 cups tomato sauce
  • 1 cup tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced
  • 3/4 cup chicken stock, preferably homemade
  • 3 tablespoons capers, drained
  • 2 tablespoons fresh oregano, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
Instructions
  1. Season the chicken liberally with salt and pepper.
  2. In a large heavy skillet, melt the ghee over medium-high heat. Add the chicken pieces to the pan and cook, in batches if necessary, just until brown, about 5 minutes per side. Transfer the chicken to a plate and set aside.
  3. Reduce the heat to medium; add the peppers, onion and garlic to the skillet and cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is tender, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Stir in the wine and simmer until reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Add the tomato sauce, tomatoes, broth, capers and herbs. Return the chicken pieces to the pan and turn them to coat in the sauce. Bring the sauce to a simmer; cover and continue cooking over medium-low heat until the chicken is cooked through, about 30 minutes.
  5. Transfer the chicken to a serving platter. Spoon the sauce over the chicken and serve.
  6. Nutrition (per serving): 418 calories, 18.8g total fat, 140.7mg cholesterol, 397.7mg sodium, 1100.4mg potassium, 21.6g carbohydrates, 4.5g fiber, 11.3g sugar, 32g protein

 

Meatzza

Yes, I know everyone and their dog has a recipe for this, but there’s no reason I can’t post mine, is there?

Before we begin, let it be known that I’m not a big fan of pizza – all things being equal, I’d rather have a taco. Perhaps it’s because I’m from Texas.

Now, having said that, I live with two men and pizza is the #1 Favorite Food of creatures with, er, manly bits.  (Well, it’s true….)  So, when my better half started hinting that he would really like some pizza, I figured it was time to make one.

The last couple of times pizza became an imperative in our home, I tried my hand at a conventional crust using yeast and an all-purpose gluten free flour.  All I have to say about that is I really admire anyone who can make a yeast bread using all-purpose gluten free flour; mine resembled a crumbly rock more than a fluffy, chewy bread.  When I decided to make it this time, Beloved suggested a pizza crust made from cauliflower or zucchini and while such things exist, I’ve read mixed reviews of them and neither really sounded appealing to me.

I’d been reading about the legendary meatzza for quite some time and figured if I were going to try it, now would be a good time.

I looked over a few recipes online and realized it’s nothing more than a variation of meatloaf, patted out thin on a cookie sheet, and topped with pizza toppings.  I decided at that point that my Italian meatball recipe would make a great base and I’d simply top it with what I like on a pizza.  And since the base was already meat, putting more meat on top seemed rather redundant, so I topped it with sauce, vegetables and cheese (and yes, my sinuses let me know about it later, but what the heck – pizza without cheese just seems silly).  Well, most of it had vegetables (and pineapple – yes, I’m one of those people); The Young One’s portion – about 1/3 of the meatzza – was simply topped with sauce and cheese.

At any rate, it was just delicious – the males in my house loved it, and I liked it pretty well myself.  In fact, since I’d rather have a taco, I think I’m going to make a Mexican version next week; I think it will be great.

Note that the pizza will shrink up some – mine was about an inch smaller on all sides and I poured off a bit of fat and liquid when I pulled it out of the oven, but that was okay.  We ate this by itself the night I made it, but next time I think I’ll serve it as a main course and make some sides to go with it – it will certainly go further that way (it reheats beautifully, by the way), and make for a more balanced meal, in my not-so-humble opinion.

You can, obviously, top it with anything you like – like I said, this is what I like on a pizza – but the nutritional content will differ, of course, depending on your ingredients.

Meatzza.  Avoiding grains and nuts?  Not to worry - pizza is back on the menu!

Meatzza
Serves: 8 to 10
Ingredients
  • Base
  • 2 pounds ground beef
  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano or other hard Italian cheese
  • 2 teaspoons kosher sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • Toppings
  • 1 recipe [url href=”http://www.janssushibar.com/pizza-sauce/” target=”_blank”]Pizza Sauce[/url]
  • 1/2 large bell pepper, chopped
  • 1/2 cup black olives, sliced
  • 8 ounces white button mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 cup pineapple, diced
  • 1 cup onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  2. Mix all of the base ingredients together in a large bowl. Pat out into a standard-size cookie sheet or other shallow, rimmed baking sheet to a uniform thickness, pushing it up the sides slightly to form a rim.
  3. Spread the pizza sauce evenly over the surface of the meat, then scatter the rest of the toppings over the sauce, finishing with the cheese.
  4. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, rotating the pan once halfway through, or until the meat is cooked and the cheese is beginning to brown.
  5. Carefully pour off any fat and liquid in the pan and allow to rest for 5 minutes before cutting into squares and serving.
  6. Nutrition (per serving): 464 calories, 23.5g total fat, 164.1mg cholesterol, 1310mg sodium, 1002.2mg potassium, 18.3g carbohydrates, 3.3g fiber, 8.9g sugar, 45.5g protein

Hot Italian Sausage

Happy Friday, y’all!  Boy, I love a short work week, don’t you?

Today I would like to talk about sausage.  Fresh sausage, free of casings, ready to be used in meatballs or a meat sauce, meatloaf or formed into patties and fried up for breakfast.  It’s the easiest of sausages to make yourself – all you need is some ground pork and the necessary spices, depending on the flavor of sausage you want.

We never ate Italian sausage when I was growing up; being from Texas, the only Italian food we ever encountered was either spaghetti or lasagna, and my mother made those with ground beef.  However, in northeast Ohio Italian food isn’t so much a cuisine as it is a religion, and Italian sausage is its Messiah.

Yes, I am totally blaspheming in the name of tasty pork products.

At any rate, I guess that makes me a convert because I’ve discovered that I just love the stuff, especially the hot variety.  Until recently, when we would buy a whole hog, I’d order a third of our fresh sausage made into hot Italian.  These days, however, I decided I wanted to experiment with the whole fresh sausage thing, and have begun ordering all of our fresh sausage as plain ground pork, to see what I can do with it.

Quite a lot, as it turns out, including making my own hot Italian sausage.

This is the recipe I used when I made Creamy Pumpkin “Pasta” a few weeks ago, and it is an excellent one.  The thing I like best about it is, of course, I control the seasonings and can make it as mild or as hot as I like.  This recipe, as written, has a bit of a kick to it, but isn’t burn-your-tongue-off spicy either.  And yes, I made it for breakfast, just ’cause it’s so darn good, but like I said – you can use it in any recipe calling for hot Italian sausage.  If one pound is too little, the recipe can easily be doubled and tripled.

For my non-pork readers, I have three words for you:  Ground chicken thighs.

Oh, and for those of you doing a Whole30 this January – yup, you can eat it.

Hot Italian Sausage

Hot Italian Sausage

Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 heaping teaspoon dried parsley
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 2 teaspoons fresh basil, finely chopped
  • 3/4 teaspoon sweet paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
  • pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground fennel seed
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh oregano, finely chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh thyme, finely chopped
Instructions
  1. Place all of the ingredients in a large bowl and combine well, using your hands, until all of the spices are evenly distributed throughout the meat. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before cooking to allow the flavors to permeate the pork.
  2. Nutrition (per serving): 308 calories, 24.2g total fat, 81.7mg cholesterol, 536mg sodium, 372.2mg potassium, 1.9g carbohydrates, <1g fiber, <1g sugar, 19.6g protein

Italian-Style Beef Liver

What a morning it’s been!  I cannot wait until Sunday (if the Mayans let us get that far in the week, of course).  What’s wrong with Saturday, you ask?  Well, for one thing, it’s the day I hit the Big 5-0, and it’s also the day we have our annual office holiday party – unfortunately, the only Saturday everyone in the office was available.  Not that we don’t enjoy it, because we do, but it’s stressful to prepare for, and I’m already feeling the pressure.

Ah, well…we’re taking the week between Christmas and New Year’s off – well, that’s the plan, anyway – so hopefully we’ll get some kind of downtime soon.

I’m also sorry to say that my cooking has been somewhat uninspired as of late – again, the stress of the season – and a great many of you are going to be disappointed with today’s recipe. However, I’m fairly confident these days that just as many of you will be happy to see it, simply because you know how good beef liver is for you and how delicious it can be when properly prepared.   And, like me, are happy for recipes other than frying it up with onions and/or bacon.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course.

This recipe calls for lightly frying the seasoned beef liver in tallow after dredging it in tapioca flour, then simmering it in tomato sauce and beef stock with some tasty vegetables and spices until a nice sauce has formed and the liver is tender.  It really is delicious – there’s nothing “livery” about the dish at all, and even The Young One ate it with much enthusiasm.  As for the name, I don’t have the slightest clue if this is a legitimately Italian preparation of beef liver, but -hey.  It seemed like a good thing to call a really good dish.

The recipe doesn’t call for it, but you can soak or marinate the liver in coconut milk (or regular milk, if you have no issues with dairy), or even a good Italian dressing before cooking to mitigate the strong flavor.  If you’re just squeamish about beef liver, this would probably work just as well with 2 pounds of cleaned chicken livers.  And it’s Whole30 compliant, to boot.

Italian-Style Beef Liver

Italian-Style Beef Liver

Serves: 6
Ingredients
  • 2 pounds beef liver, cut into thin strips
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup tapioca flour
  • 4 tablespoons tallow, or other fat suitable for frying
  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1 pint tomato sauce
  • 1 pint beef stock, preferably homemade
  • 1 cup sliced sweet peppers
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
Instructions
  1. Season the liver lightly with the salt and pepper; dredge in the tapioca and shake to remove the excess.
  2. Heat the tallow in a large heavy skillet over high heat and fry the liver, working in batches if necessary, until browned, 2 to 3 minutes; remove to a plate and set aside.
  3. Reduce the heat to medium low and sauté the onion and celery until the onion is soft but not brown, about 5 minutes. Add the sliced peppers and garlic and cook for another minute. Stir in the beef stock, scraping all the brown bits off the bottom, then stir in the tomato sauce, oregano and thyme. Add the beef liver back to the pan, with the accumulated pan juices.
  4. Simmer the simmer the liver, covered, for 20 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the meat is tender and the sauce has thickened. Taste and add salt and pepper if necessary before serving.
  5. Nutrition (per serving): 367 calories, 14.4g total fat, 425.1mg cholesterol, 704.7mg sodium, 1002.9mg potassium, 24.6g carbohydrates, 2.7g fiber, 5.7g sugar, 34.1g protein